Everyone has a story. I have had some pretty tough ones over the years but none will ever compare to 2020. It ended worse than it began, which I would have not thought possible but being diagnosed with breast cancer turns out was not the worst that could happen. I learned more about myself, who I am and who I don’t want to be again this last year than I ever have in years past.
I love to write. I don’t love to edit but I love the idea of writing without the limitations of correct punctuation or the idea that sentences can’t flow together without the worry of fragments. I seriously just found myself back at FSCS in Mrs. Shipman’s English class staring at a test that I had undoubtedly failed because my nouns and verbs had somehow insulted my adjectives! I self doubt my posts at times out of fear of offending someone or as has happened in the past when someone reads it and then publicly mocks it on social media. I stopped writing over the last few years because I lost myself in believing my words and the feelings behind them were unworthy to be spoken or felt. My confidence was cracked by angry, hurtful words and I would find myself carefully thinking through each sentence written and then immediately regret the moment I wrote it. Other times I would just let my fingers type and nothing but verbal vomit would come out and I found myself hating every word.
Ernest Hemingway says to “write hard and clear about what hurts.” Well let me tell you 2020 hurt, a lot. Being diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma during a pandemic started out the year. Cancer needs an army of support and when the nation goes on lockdown it becomes just you and your disease. Loved ones are asked to wait at home for a phone call, you drive yourself to doctor appointments and asked to wait in your car until you successfully answer a series of questions and surgery days are much like the first day of kindergarten where you are dropped off, look back and wave with tears streaming down your face as you turn to walk in a building that is full of unknown. The nurses and doctors are amazing and do the very best they can to help settle your anxious thoughts but waking up to a stranger standing over your bed feeding you ice chips just isn’t the same as having your family surrounding you. This went on for 9 very long months that included so many doctor appointments that I finally either stopped counting or just seriously lost count, 4 major surgeries and one very stubborn patient who refused to play the poor pitiful me card and decided that cancer had truly picked the wrong person.
I was one of the very lucky ones. I had the “Dream Team” of cancer on my side who took me very serious when I told them there is no other choice but to beat this and beat it hard. I think when you have a child like Elizabeth God truly looks out for the caregiver and I also believe this was my first tap on the shoulder letting me know that life was about to spiral out of control and I needed to find my way back to Him …. fast. I have been very open and honest about my relationship with the Lord. No secret that I can get really angry and turn my back on Him and stay angry until I get scared and come running back. Do you want some more honesty? This is pretty much my life in general and one of those incredibly hard life lessons I am learning as I mentioned above. How fortunate are we that He is always waiting with open arms to welcome us back, forgive us when we ask and then never gives it a second thought. But in true Pam fashion I brushed off his tap and decided I knew better than Him. My “dream team” consisted of a Surgeon, Plastic Surgeon, Oncologist, OB/GYN who all worked together and made a plan that would allow me to still be able to take care of Elizabeth once I had healed. I started with a double mastectomy, this was the only option once the cancer began to spread into satellite lesions. That was followed by 2 reconstruction surgeries and finally a total hysterectomy. Okay that one I didn’t put up a fight at all about. The type of cancer I have loves estrogen and even with chemotherapy and radiation I was still at a high risk of the cancer coming back. I will stop and tell you right now that Menopause is no joke my friends. And Menopause that can’t be treated with medications because oh wait my cancer loves estrogen is something to be taken very seriously. You better have an amazing support system because being thrown into that situation overnight will change you. There was no slowly coming into it, no it was one day everything is going along okay and the next day you have totally lost everything that defined you as a woman and your total emotional well being is no where to be found and you wonder if they threw it out with organs they ripped out of you.
It was hard to keep me down, I don’t sit still well! This is not a secret, I have been hearing my dad tell people that for years about me. It was hard to accept help, something else I don’t do well and asking for it well just forget it!! It is not something I am proud of, it really is a character flaw in my opinion. I am a giver, would rather help than be helped. Last night I had dinner with my parents and my dad shared a story with me that I have never in all my years heard him share with anyone. My dad is a Neurosurgeon, a brilliant one at that. I have written about my time with him in the OR and that at the age of 14 I knew one thing for sure, I never ever wanted to be a doctor. So last night my dad is telling me of a colleague of his whose daughter followed in her dads footsteps and also became a Neurosurgeon. My dad met up with this friends daughter at a conference and asked her how he could encourage me to do the same. He went on to explain to her that he really wanted to be that example for me to carry on his work of helping people. My dad went on and spoke of her response to him and while I didn’t and probably should have stopped him mid story and share with him that I did follow in his footsteps because the most important thing I took away from the years of watching him practice medicine was the importance of helping people. I just did it in my own way which is kind of how I do life anyway! I will give and give and give and while at times that has gotten me into trouble I don’t know if that is a leason I will ever learn from. I don’t help expecting anything in return; in fact I would rather just leave some food on the doorstep of someone in need, ring and run! I had a friend many years ago who would call me “no help Pam” and while I thought it was funny and we would laugh about it at the time I am very slowly learning that it is okay to and that I need to ask for help sometimes.
Summer came and went; doctor appointments continued. If it wasn’t me then it was Elizabeth. I had kept Elizabeth very quarantined only taking her out of the house to see the doctor and for respite care. It was the longest and hardest 6 months I have had with her. Elizabeth is my social butterfly and thrives on personal interaction (with other people than her mother) so when school stopped and she was forced to stay inside the house she didn’t and couldn’t understand why. Her seizures increased, her happy disposition turned to frustration and there was nothing I could do for her. During and for a period time after each surgery Elizabeth spent time with her respite, Lisa. The first surgery kept Elizabeth away from me for 6 weeks, the second and third 4 weeks. Even after school started I kept Elizabeth home for another 6 weeks until I could see just how school would work. I will tell you that the morning the bus pulled up in front our house both Elizabeth and I breathed a sigh of relief that maybe life was getting back to normal; slowly but surely. It would take all the way through the fall before I could fully take care of Elizabeth by myself.
And then life fell apart again. Early one morning I was out walking the dogs, slipped and fell. I heard the break immediately. The pain, good Lord the pain was something I have never felt before. I was able to lift my leg just enough to see my ankle totally mangled. As I laid in the wet cold grass just as the sun was rising I panicked and began to scream. My kids were inside still asleep, I was holding onto this leash and puppy for dear life screaming with everything I had. It would be my neighbor 2 houses down that would hear me and call 911. I kept asking her, is it bad just tell me if it’s bad. I knew it was bad. Emergency surgery and 2 months of absolutely zero weight bearing and a reminder that I don’t ask for or need any help. The next 2 months become pure hell. I am not even going to sugar coat this one for you. I was a total wreck but honestly I don’t know if anyone would have ever known that outside of this house. But those inside stood back helpless as I began to fall apart. This would become my second tap on the shoulder from God that I needed to pay attention to and once again did not. My anger towards Him was at an all time high and there was no way I was going to listen to Him now. I could go from bed to bathroom to bed to maybe a chair. I couldn’t shower for days at a time and this time I kept Elizabeth home with me. The kids had to become the caretakers and I was not a good mom for quite a while.
I think that we live in a time where social media expects us to have a life that is simply unrealistic. We are consumed with our phones and become so caught up in what everyone else is posting that we lose ourselves in what is most important. We begin to live vicariously through friends and what appears to be what I call “the pinterest life”. We find ourselves wishing and wanting a different life than what we have and become self absorbed with this idea if we don’t have what we see on our phones then we have some how failed. We begin to look for something or someone to fill the void we have created by comparing our own life to that of a post, a story or a reel. I had become so painfully aware of my family always being on their phones that one day I asked to see Caroline’s phone. I was shocked to see that she had accumulated 12 hours of screen time in one day. ONE DAY y’all. I then looked at all of our phones and they were all close to the same. I would get asked, what else are we going to do if we aren’t on our phones? This is not a post about the importance of putting our phones down, we all know this but to say life is not what we see on social media and the relationships it is ruining because we become so enamored with someones else’s life that we forget about the one we have right in front of us.
As this crazy, awful year began to come to a close my third tap came from God. And I am sure because I had ignored the first two it was more of a standing in front of me, hands on my shoulders saying to me that the time had come, I needed to pay attention. Still fighting this cancer diagnosis, in treatment; still unable to bear any weight and relying on a scooter to move from room to room, life falling apart all around me and thinking this year could not get any worse it did. Tonight is the eve of what would have been our third anniversary. The marriage should have ended years ago but for whatever reason we hung on but in the process destroyed one another. This is really all that needs to be said; there are 3 sides to every divorce. His side, her side and the truth. No one is perfect, no one. We all make mistakes and when those we love most hurt us it is so hard to take a step back and ask what could I have done differently? It is unbelievably easy to blame the other person. I believe in the sanctity of marriage, although my track record would not reflect that. I am not proud of my failed relationships; pride has hit hard this time around. But falling apart has been the most beautiful moment of my life because I had no choice but to turn back to God. This time I couldn’t come running back from my anger because I was scared; this time I had give up total control and allow Him to take over every aspect of my life. It has been the hardest test of my faith and what God knows about me is so much more important than what others think about me.
I don’t wish for a do over; just like when people ask me if I knew this was the life Elizabeth would have would I have made a different decision when she was born. The answer to that has always been and will always be no. My dad tells me on a regular basis that I was built for war and that I always find my way back from what appears to be some of the worst life experiences one can be thrown. This year I fought battles I never want to find myself in again. I have felt defeat and know that God will take your life and turn it the hell upside down to get your attention. We all have a story. We may not end up where we thought we were going, but we will always end up where we were meant to be; deep breath tomorrow will come and you start over.
“For I know the plans for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11